In the famous words of Jud Crandall, sometimes, dead is better.
"Pet Sematary" is the newest adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name. The film, directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, follows a family as the move into a new house in a rural area. Unbeknownst to them, their property also includes a burial ground with the power to bring the dead back to life. The film stars Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow and Jeté Laurence.
The cast does an excellent job conveying the family dynamic. Clarke’s character Louis has great chemistry with Seimetz’s Rachel. They are very believable as a married couple and clearly care a lot about their children. Scenes with them feel natural and not forced. As the film progresses, Clarke does an excellent job conveying the inner breakdown of his character. Laurence is fantastic as the innocent Ellie Creed. Her positive outlook on the world contrasted with the grim reality of the course of the story is wonderful to watch. However, Laurence truly shines with devilish delight after a climatic event in the story.
Lithgow’s Jud Crandall works well as the wise, neighborly character in the film. His deep knowledge and wisdom help move the story points along. The moments when he grows closer to the Creed family are a joy to watch, although it would have been nice to have more of them. Alycia Brooke Levine brings her own morbid take to the twisted character Zelda, but she simply isn’t given enough time to shine.
The direction of the film is swift and terrifying. Scares are built up with intense amounts of dread. instead of quickly releasing the tension with a jump scare, they merge into the nail-biting atmosphere most of the time.
The scariest moments come from the concept of the story itself. Seeing a father interact with his reanimated child is utterly chilling on its own. The film makes great use of dark humor by showcasing Louis’s desire to treat his zombie-like child as human. The horror makeup effects range from unsettlingly subtle to disgustingly gorey. The many gruesome visuals in the film ignite heart-stopping reactions, with one highlight involving a brutal and unfiltered view of a severely injured teenager on his deathbed.
The cinematography efficiently adds to the dreadful atmosphere. Hallways are eerily lit by fading bulbs, and the vast woodlands are illuminated by the ghastly moonlight. The fog that swirls around the “Sematary” itself evokes feelings of classic horror cinema. The various shots are used to build and release tension, with highly intense moments being framed much more tightly than those that are more relaxed. One highlight includes a masterfully filmed and edited sequence where the protagonists make a heart-wrenching discovery. On the other hand, sometimes the scenes filmed in broad daylight feel a bit more generically framed and visually uninteresting.
The main plot, adapted from King’s famous novel, loves to poke fun at fans of the source material. Story elements and key plot points are teased and interchanged in order to keep audience members on edge. The overall story of a family struggling to deal with grief hits an emotional core, while the supernatural shenanigans that follow constantly stun with fear. The first act of the film can feel a bit monotonous at times before the manifestation of the horror elements. Still, establishing a sense of normalcy is important to highlighting the impact of the darker elements.
“Pet Sematary” is the best kind of nightmare. The suspense, performances and direction all work together to effectively conjure Mr. King’s terrifying imagination on the big screen.